Glenn Maxwell hit a 100-metre six in the opening game of IPL 2021 as Royal Challengers Bangalore condemned Mumbai Indians to yet another false beginning.
If one were to sift through the IPL archives for hits and misses, or even baffling stories that are difficult to explain, Maxwell is a name that is sure to pop up. His is a curious case. Every season the Aussie is picked up with renewed hope. However, almost every season, Maxwell fails to deliver. The failure is not even one of lofty standards and high expectations. It is one of basic cricketing responsibilities – batsmen are selected to score runs. In T20 cricket, batsmen score runs quickly. Maxwell, however, has been an exceptional case.
Yet, somehow, the middle-order batsman always commanded a high price in the auction. The fallacy of opportunity cost combined with the danger of hope. It has burnt many a hole in deep pockets. What if Maxwell finally comes good? This interrogative and the ensuing narrative have been a common discussion across multiple IPL franchises ahead of auctions.
Imagine the game’s finest brains, the shrewdest tacticians, and the best data analysts gathered together in a conference room. Serious discussions, hectic brainstorming, and intense verbal oscillating. Only to decide on splashing serious cash – to the effect of 9 digits no less – at someone who has not hit a single IPL six between 2018 and 2020; not scored a single IPL half-century since 2016.
That is precisely what Royal Challengers Bangalore did in the auction ahead of IPL 2021. They paid 14 crore and 25 lakhs in Indian rupee to acquire the services of the Australian. That is 14,25,00,000. Those many digits for a player whose IPL highlight reel in the last 5 years would mostly comprise the different ways he got out.
Maxwell in IPL 2014
That last time Maxwell had a successful IPL was in 2014. In fact, he won the player of the tournament in that edition. Playing for Kings XI Punjab (now Punjab Kings), he set UAE on fire. He displayed destructive ball striking prowess. In his first three games, Maxwell scored 279 runs at a strike rate of 193 – half centuries in all three. Slog sweeps, reverse sweeps, pick-up shots, inside out shots, pulls, cuts – everything Maxwell did in 2014, came good.
Led by a fellow Aussie who perhaps understood the maverick in the man, Maxwell was sent up to bat at number 3 and made merry. He was enjoying the Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah nightlife like no other. 552 runs and a runner-up finish for his team to go with multiple personal accolades and a reputation the size of the tallest skyscraper.
At 26, the world was seemingly at his feet. Australia’s precocious talent – central to plans of wrestling back the 50-over World Cup, a T20 shoo-in and a high-flier in the richest carnival of cricket in the land of cricketing riches.
There was – and still is – a flamboyance to Maxwell that is hard to miss. Harder to dislike. He is the exact kind that will always draw attention. The “big show” is what they started calling him. He was destined to be one of the IPL greats.
Alas, Maxwell went from big show to no-show over the next 5 years. He passed fifty just twice between 2015-2020. He averaged just 18.7 in this time and had played 61 matches. And 5 years is enough time for any player to come good.
It is baffling how Maxwell has consistently failed to deliver on the IPL stage. There seems little cricketing logic that can explain this bizarre run of performances from a player who has otherwise – even if selectively – lit up different tournaments across the globe.
In 2017, Maxwell became one of the few players in the game to have achieved the distinguished feat of scoring a century in every format. Quite ironically for his IPL franchises, he chose India as his destination. Amid warm applause in Ranchi, Maxwell had scored his maiden Test ton.
With fingers crossed, Delhi Daredevils picked him up in 2018 for 9 crore of Indian rupee. He scored 169 runs and averaged 14.08 – that is less than the number of crores paid to acquire his services in this IPL. In 2020, Punjab bought him back for INR 10.75 crore and he averaged 15.42. Scored even lesser than his previous stint – 108 and at a strike rate of just above run-a-ball.
The strange thing is that Maxwell had won the man of the tournament award playing for his country against the world’s best limited overs side, England, just ahead of IPL 2020. In his IPL journey of potential to hype, his T20I average increased to 42 and in the Big Bash, he was scoring at almost 37 runs per game.
Maxwell at RCB – the perfect fit?
In the global sense thus, Maxwell is a decent purchase for RCB. Any buy for that amount is a little jaw slacking. In the IPL for Maxwell, however, borderline senseless. But, there could be a method to the madness.
A careful look at Maxwell’s numbers suggests he is not what meets the eye. He is perhaps a victim – expectation aside – of his own method. The internet often describes him as a “pinch-hitter”. Unfortunately, IPL franchises – with all the resources at their disposal – have bought in to the internet narrative.
Maxwell’s big performances have all come when he had time at his disposal. His exploits at Punjab in 2014 came when he batted at 3. He scored 145* against Sri Lanka, for his national team, while opening the batting. There is, in fact, a common theme to all his three T20I centuries – he faced his first ball within the powerplay overs.
This transforms from coincidence to most likely causation when one considers his IPL numbers from number 3 – average of 33 and strike rate of 194. And yet, teams insist on classing Maxwell as a middle-order dasher.
There is perhaps another more psychological angle to Maxwell’s quizzical IPL form – the main man trepidation. Maxwell enhanced his reputation to the extent that teams in IPL started looking at him as their big bet. The “big show” is perhaps not cut out to be the limelight cricketer from the start. He may not like the pressure of carrying teams on his back. Some players just do not fancy the expectation and, instead, deliver when not expected of.
As he was in IPL 2014, in the Australian team, he is only but a maverick. Not the man expected to carry the team. He seems to excel in a surrounding of fellow match-winners – free role to express without fear, or worry about outcome.
At RCB, the situation may thus be ideal. Virat Kohli has already announced his clear intention to open the batting in the tournament. The captain’s good friend, AB de Villiers, is someone whose numbers indicate him to be a better finisher. Thus, there is a slot at number 3 to be grabbed. Further, that he would be sandwiched between two legitimate stalwarts gives him – at least in his mind – the role he has perhaps always craved.
And now, it may just be time, by law of averages for Maxwell to correct his anomalous IPL record. From paradise lost to promised land, RCB might well be Maxwell’s shot at IPL exoneration.